When the Bough Breaks - Part 2
Written and Illustrated by: Christi Smith Hayden
Story Concept by: Christi Smith Hayden and Kathy Pogge
Previously on Gargoyles...
Ellie: "Richard?" (puts her hand on his arm.) "Want to talk about it? You and George aren't fighting again, are you?"
Richard: "Oh, no, Mom." (shakes his head.) "Nothing like that. We've both been so busy lately that we haven't talked in ages."
Ellie: "Promise me that you'll make time. Brothers should never be strangers."
* * * * *
George: "Hello, Doctor."(cold, calculating smile) "I have a business proposition for you."
Sevarius: "Really, Mr. Harrison? And have you run this by the plan administrator for our mutual employer? I somehow don't think what you have in mind is covered by the company health plan."
George: "Not a problem." (tosses a bundle of money on the desk) "This is between you and me."
* * * * *
Zed: "What do you care? Once your uncle finds out -"
Umbriel: "There are some things Madoc does not need to know about. I am helping one of my fellow Halflings and that is a matter between us."
* * * * *
Quinn: "No, that's all right, I-" (embarrassed smile) "Schlatter's Drugstore, right?"
Richard: "Yeah. I don't think we've ever been introduced but I'm Richard Harrison, clumsy college student and callers of taxis."
Quinn: "Quinn, Quinn Ramsey." (picks up baby)"And this colicky thing is my daughter, Hope."
* * * * *
Sevarius: "Well, well, well, Mr. Harrison, you gave me a pretty little puzzle, but I think I've got it."
George: "What's the answer, Doctor?"
Sevarius: "It's not going to be easy, and it's going to require the assistance of a close relative. You have family, don't you?"
George: "Doesn't everybody?" (non-committal shrug)
Sevarius: "Of course anyone would do -- a parent, a sibling, the younger the sampling the better."
George: "A ...child?"
Sevarius: "Oh, yes. The computer simulations had the best results with the little nippers. Ideally neonatal chromosomes would be best. They're still developing, you see, and it's so easy to manipulate them."
~ When the Bough Breaks - Part 1 ~
* * * * *
When the Bough Breaks - Part 2
* * * * *
April 4, 1999 -- The Conservatory Garden, Central Park
Fog shrouded the rolling grounds of the garden, turning it into a mist-filled dream world. A persistent squeaking pierced the veil. Figures began take shape in the haze, gradually taking the form of three people and a baby in a stroller walking along the Conservatory sidewalks.
"-Now, last year," Ellie Harrison was saying, "the tulips here were just beautiful. I always like to come to the city around this time of year just to see the spring flowers here in Central Park." She sighed and looked wistfully into the fog. "Hardly anything is blooming and we can't see it anyway. What's with this weather?"
"It's that stupid El Niño thing," Quinn commented, as she pushed the stroller. "If it's not freezing outside, it's foggy. If it's not foggy, it's raining. If it's not raining, it's snowing." She rolled her brown eyes and made a derisive noise.
"Lather, rinse, repeat," Richard agreed. "I'd hate to be a weatherman right now. Talk about being a walking target!"
"Oh, I don't know that's the weather's all that bad," Ellie replied as they approached a reflecting pool. The fountain in the center was still but the bronze statues of two children in Victorian dress could just be seen through the mist. "The fog makes these English-style gardens seem more authentic somehow."
Quinn laughed. "I see where you get your sunny outlook now, Rich."
Hope heard her mother laugh and squirmed in her stroller, vainly trying to wiggle her arms in her insulated snowsuit. "Muh-muh-muh!"
"Somebody hears Mommy," Ellie said, craning around to look at the baby. "Such bright eyes! It's a good thing that she's bundled up so well. There's a rash of influenza going around."
"My mom the nurse," Richard joked. "Always on the job."
His mother gave him a playful glare. "Hush, you." Ellie looked wistfully at Hope. "I don't suppose you'd let me hold her for a little while?"
Richard checked his watch and grinned. "She held out a whole hour and a half. That's a new record!"
"Of course, you can, Mrs. Harrison," Quinn replied as she unfastened Hope from the stroller and handed the baby to the older woman. "She's probably tired of the stroller anyway."
Ellie walked off towards the fountain, talking animatedly to the baby. Quinn sighed and leaned against Richard. "I like your mother."
"Good, because I can tell she likes you." Richard slid his arm around her. "I was a little worried about bringing her along but after I told her about you, she really wanted to meet you."
"Well, you were a sport about meeting my folks," Quinn said lightly. "Fair's fair, after all." She looked up at him and smiled. "Is it just me, or does it seem like we're moving too fast?"
"I don't know. Maybe just a little," Richard commented, "but I'm willing to let things happen at their own pace. I'm just happy to be with you."
Quinn said nothing but simply raised on her toes and kissed him. Richard rubbed noses with her playfully before answering with a kiss of his own. They became lost in each other's eyes, scarcely noticing as a lone bicyclist coasted by and disappeared into the fog.
* * * * *
Glancing over his shoulder, George gave his brother and his new girlfriend one last look. Now that he'd seen her with Richard, George remembered Quinn as the Maddox Technologies secretary that he'd picked up in a Greenwich Village nightclub. He had no particular memories of that weekend; simply that it had been an enjoyable way of bypassing Maddox's security. Quinn meant nothing to him; if Richard wanted her, it was no skin off George's nose.
A familiar woman's voice came out of the fog. "Now, darling," she was saying to the pale pink bundle in her arms as they stood facing the bronze statues in the pool, "this is Dickon and Mary. They were two children who had a secret garden. When you're a little older, I'll tell you all about them."
Sharply, George swerved away, taking the bike path away from the reflecting pool. He stopped on the far side and stared across the water. It was all he could do to not go back and throw his arms around her but he didn't dare. Until she had spoken, George hadn't realized the woman that had accompanied Richard and Quinn to the park was their mother. If there was one person on the planet that could see through any of his various disguises, it was her. Ellie Harrison might be a homebody that seldom left Connecticut but George had never been able to fool her. All the fantastic powers in the world were not powerful enough to overcome George's deep sense of family.
As Richard and Quinn strolled over to them, George's enhanced senses allowed him to eavesdrop on their conversation.
"So, Mom," Richard said, "what do you think of my girls?"
"I think they're just precious," Ellie replied, cuddling Hope for a few moments before tucking her in the stroller. "I'm so glad you let me come along this afternoon, Quinn. It was worth skipping an afternoon's shopping with my club just to have this time to get to know you and little Hope here."
Quinn smiled shyly. "Well, thank you, Mrs. Harrison. I've enjoyed meeting you too."
"Ellie. You must call me Ellie." She smiled back. "All of my sons' girlfriends do."
"Sons?" Quinn looked puzzled for a moment and then glanced at Richard. "Oh, yeah. That's right. You said you had a brother."
Ellie laughed. "Yes, you must meet George some time, dear, if we can only keep him still for that long. He's working for some European-based company and he's always traveling."
"George?" Quinn giggled. "GEORGE Harrison? Your brother's a Beatle wanna-be?"
Richard rolled his eyes. "Not really, but he does tend to get really good tables in restaurants." He said it in a light tone of voice but slight frown lines creased his forehead.
"Poor George," Ellie said a little sadly, "his father saddled him with a real lulu of a name but he made the best of it, that boy of mine." She smiled at Hope. "I love Richard just as much as I do George, but you'll find, Quinn dear, that your first child will always be special, no matter what."
George smiled a little in spite of himself. He was leaning his elbows against the handlebars of his bike when a glimmering of light in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He stared up towards the deserted section of the gardens. Someone was coming through the Unseelie nexus. George frowned and pedaled up the bike path without looking back at what was once his family.
Umbriel stepped through the portal, pulling on his gloves and looking around casually. He was wearing a charcoal gray suit under his dark overcoat and his pale hair was tucked neatly beneath his broad-brimmed hat. He spied George approaching and nodded at him. "Good afternoon, Mr. Harrison. Taking a bit of exercise, are we?"
George shrugged. "The Manhattan Greenway runs right past the Conservatory. People are used to seeing bicycles passing by here. It makes for a good cover."
"With the resources you have at your disposal," Umbriel commented wryly, "I hardly think you need to be that discreet."
"Old habits die hard." George gave Umbriel a hard look. "Madoc may have given us these fancy powers but I prefer to live by my wits. Keeps my mind sharp."
"As you will." Umbriel put his hands in his pockets. "I have an appointment to keep, but first, walk with me a while. I have your assignments for the next few nights."
"All right," George agreed and hopped off his bike, wheeling it along as he and Umbriel left the park. As they walked out-of-sight, a portion of the wall stirred. A pair of blue eyes opened in the brickwork and a brown-clad figure stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Garlon stared into the fog after the retreating figures and his mouth twisted into a mocking smile.
* * * * *
Later that night...
As they skirted the north edge of Central Park, Angela was trying to think of a good way to suggest a brief detour from their assigned patrol route when Lexington canted left into the wind and made the course change for her. The web-winged gargoyle looked over his shoulder and said casually, "His place is over this way, isn't it?"
Angela sighed. "Who told you?"
"Broadway, who else?" Lex puffed out his cheeks, closed his eyelids halfway and lowered his voice. "He said, 'Lex, if you go anywhere near Columbia University, save yourself the trouble and head on past Richard's place first. You'll wind up there anyway.'"
Uncontrollable giggles almost made Angela collide with some television antennas. "Oh, dear," she commented, wiping a tear from her eyes. "You certainly have him down pat."
"Hey, get me a chair and I'll do my imitation of Goliath. It used to always crack up Brooklyn and Broadway back in the old days." He sighed and his smile drooped at the corners. "Back when we were still the Trio."
"I'm sorry, Lex," Angela said gently. "I can't help but feel a little responsible for breaking you guys up."
"No, Angela, it's all right. I've gotten used to it." He gave her a little smile. "I had to, especially after Brooklyn showed up with Sata and the kids. It only gets me down every now and then."
"With all the gargoyles there are in the world, I'm sure there must be one for you, Lex. It's just a question of when you'll find her."
Lex shrugged, causing a slight wobble in his glide path. "Yeah, right."
"Take Richard, for example. Quinn had been coming into the drugstore where he works for over year before they finally spoke to one another and now Richard's happier than I've ever seen him." Angela aimed towards a red brick building. "You'll find yours, you'll see."
An ungodly caterwauling shook the windows in Richard's apartment. Angela and Lexington peeked in to see a somewhat frazzled Richard pacing the length of his small apartment with Hope crying on his shoulder. It took them several minutes of tapping on the window to get his attention. As soon as Richard unlocked it, the two gargoyles slipped inside.
Angela held her hands over her ears. "Richard! What's wrong with her?"
"Oh, I wish I knew!" Richard exclaimed weakly. "Quinn's office called and she had to rush down there, so like a fool, I offered to babysit. I know that Hope tends to be colicky but this is ridiculous."
"Is she wet?" the female gargoyle asked.
"Only from the neck up." He held the crying baby out at arm's length. "Sweetie, please stop! Uncle Richard is going insane!"
Hope's only response was to turn an even deeper shade of red and crank up the volume.
"Good grief," Lex commented, "she's almost the same color as Brooklyn."
Richard cast a curious look at the olive green gargoyle, taking notice of him for the first time. Angela noticed and said quickly, "You remember Lexington, don't you? He's my patrol partner tonight."
Richard nodded to him and settled Hope back on his shoulder. "Pity we couldn't meet under less noisy circumstances." A sudden thumping was felt through the floor. "There's the downstairs neighbor again. You'd think she'd never heard a crying baby before."
"You know," Lex said calmly, "I used to babysit Alex a lot when he was a baby. Would you mind if I tried something?" He held out his hands.
"At this point, I'll try anything," Richard answered as he handed over the screaming infant. "I'm beginning to have second thoughts about this whole thing. As a substitute father, I suck."
"Patience, Richard," Angela said as she put a hand on his shoulder. "No one is born knowing how to be a good parent. Princess Katharine and the Magus both said it was very difficult for them and Tom in the beginning but you'll get the hang of it, you'll see."
In the meanwhile, Lexington had settled himself on the floor, sitting cross-legged with Hope cradled against his chest. She paused in her crying long enough to look the web-winged gargoyle over curiously but she was clearly puckering up for a fresh onslaught of tears. Lex started to rock gently and hum softly, a pleasant rumbling thrum starting low in his chest. He began to rub the baby's back, careful to keep his talons raised to avoid snagging them in her fuzzy pink sleeper.
Hope's blue eyes widened as she listened to the strange new sound, forgetting her distress for the moment. Her eyelids began to droop in rhythm to Lex's rocking. Hope hiccuped once, twice and gradually gave in to his gentle persuasion.
Lex continued to rock as he looked up and winked at Richard and Angela. "Old rookery trick. Works every time."
"Thanks a lot," Richard said gratefully - but quietly. "What did you do?"
"Gargoyle babies like it when you hold them against your heart like this and hum to them. It reminds them of when they were back in the egg or something. Alex went through the 'evening crazies' when he was this age and I tried the old rookery trick on him. Darned if it doesn't work just as well on human babies too."
"Any particular tune?"
"Alex used to like this dumb toy commercial jingle but I used 'Rock-a-Bye Baby' this time." Lex laughed quietly. "Always stick with the classics, I say."
"Thanks," Richard replied as he sank into an over-stuffed chair, "I mean it. I owe you one. She's been crying non-stop for almost two hours."
"No problem." Lex carefully transferred Hope into her carrier. He brushed the back of his hand against her forehead. "All that yelling would explain why she's so hot. Getting overheated isn't very good for babies, you know."
"Boy, I've got a lot to learn. This isn't anything like the pediatric sections of my medical textbooks." Richard reached down and rocked the carrier gently. "What am I getting into?"
"Something wonderful," Angela commented as she leaned against the couch. "How are you and Quinn getting along?"
Richard gave her a wide dopey smile. "Better and better all the time. It's a little early yet but everything just seems right with Quinn. I can't explain it any better than that."
"Our elder likes to say that when some gargoyles meet the one that will be their true mate, their hearts sing for each other." Lex laughed. "It's sort of corny but I guess it's true in some cases."
"I guess so." Richard yawned, stretching his arms and legs in front of him. "Excuse me."
Angela laughed. "No, Richard. You've had a very difficult evening. We really should be leaving so you can get some rest now." She crossed the room where Lex had already opened the window. "Good night."
" 'night, Angela." Richard's voice was already slurring as he started to fall asleep.
Lexington waited until Angela was out to carefully slide the window shut. "Nice guy," he commented. "Hard to imagine he's related to that George jerk."
"Nobody ever gets to pick who they're related to," Angela said wistfully, "not even me." She sprang away from the building quickly before Lex had a chance to speak and he had no choice but to follow.
* * * * *
A corner pub in London
Blue rings of cut-tobacco smoke swirled in dizzying eddies above the three old men sitting at the bar as Umbriel stepped inside. They nodded at him gravely and returned to their pints. In the four months that Umbriel had been coming here, the old men had always been there like regular fixtures, smoking and drinking and keeping each other company. He left them to their diversions and headed back to a table besides a diamond-paned window.
A petite woman with short auburn hair sat there, looking distractedly out the window. Her jeans and leather jacket looked out of place in the homey surroundings of the pub but she didn't seem to care. Her eyes were fixed elsewhere.
Umbriel peered out of the window. Some people were piling out of a taxi across the street. One of them, a tall red-haired lad was chatting with the driver while he handed over the fare. He laughed and the woman sitting in the pub watching smiled with him. It wasn't the first time Umbriel had witnessed this behavior. The Banshee had been drifting around London in her human form ever since the young Irishman had arrived and Umbriel suspected that her interest in him was more than she was willing to admit. It had taken weeks before Umbriel had convinced her that he was not one of Oberon's agents and still days more before she was willing to meet with him here on neutral ground.
"Does he know you've been watching him all this time?" Umbriel asked as he sat down.
She shook her head. Her eyes locked with his and Umbriel could hear her thoughts in his mind. No, and I don't want him to know. It's - it's complicated. I don't why I've stayed this long.
"Have you given any more thought to our offer?" Umbriel asked. "I know Maeve and Morrigan are eager to have their triad of power back again."
Without my voice, I'm nothing but a shapechanger. No one can remove this magical geas that Oberon has put on me.
"That's where you're wrong, Banshee. Madoc's power is equal to Oberon's and he is more than capable of removing that invisible gag. You could have your voice and your powers back in full."
But what of my freedom? she retorted with an arrogant lift of a curve eyebrow. Even without a voice, I've survived fine without Oberon or Madoc.
Umbriel cast a brief look out of the window. "What of your human friend? I've heard Maeve talk. She bears no great love for Cuchullain's heir. It's only a question of when she will strike and who will be there to protect him?"
Banshee frowned, her forehead creasing.
"Think of it this way," Umbriel said, leaning towards her, "a little of your freedom for his safety. You could save him by keeping Maeve focused on other things, away from London."
As I have told you time and time again, this war between Madoc and Oberon is none of my affair. Her eyes flared, becoming pupil-less for a few seconds. How is it that you serve the Unseelie Court, human-born?
Her question made Umbriel pause thoughtfully. "In the beginning, it was out of a sense of kinship," he admitted. "Oberon has never once acknowledged me as his son but Madoc welcomed me and offered me a second chance at being part of a family." His eyes hardened. "I soon learned that our politics were not the same but without my presence to temper his more radical views, I dare not leave. There must be a balance or else even the Unseelie Court will fail."
You play a dangerous game.
"Some games are worth the risk, Banshee. To make change, sometimes one must rise to the challenge," Umbriel replied. "Admit it, if you wanted to play it safe, you would've stayed on Avalon with the others, cowering in Oberon's shadow. Here and now is where things are going to happen. The question is, will you be a part of them or not?"
The silent woman looked at him steadily for a few seconds, and then looked out the window, lost in her own thoughts.
* * * * *
Unseelie's Headquarters- Later that evening
Firelight painted orange shadows on the throne room walls and lit the faces of those within with an unearthly glow. His batwing cape draped his throne like a shroud as Madoc Morfryn held court while Queen Maeve stood at his right hand looking dangerous. Somehow the brown-clad figure in front of them had found the only patch of shadow in the room and stood there, features hidden in darkness as he gave his report.
"The London halflings, or as they like to call themselves, the Vampyres, are performing well," Garlon said in a clipped, matter-of-fact tone, "but there's been some disturbing incidents of disobedience among the New York bunch."
"Indeed," Madoc commented as he leaned on one hand, "can you be more specific?"
Garlon shrugged. "There's a definite lack of respect. I followed Umbriel when he passed on the assignments to George Harrison and then followed Harrison for a time. He gathered his people and gave them their instructions but even though they did go about their business as ordered, there just wasn't a great deal of enthusiasm. The Vampyres follow us because they owe us their lives. Some of the Halflings have their own agendas and they seem to be putting themselves first and us second."
"Hmmm...." Madoc drummed his fingertips on the arm of his throne. "Investigate further, Garlon, and keep me apprised of the situation."
"The waiting is beginning to take its toll," Maeve commented. "We rallied the troops a wee bit too early, I'd be thinkin'."
"I disagree," Madoc said sharply. "We needed to gain time to consolidate our forces and destabilize our foes. The signs are nearly in alignment, Maeve, you've seen them for yourself." He narrowed his eye craftily. "No, if we are to succeed we must stick to our plan and move when the time is right. When we strike, there will be no mercy."
"Aye, my lord," Maeve agreed, nodding her head slowly. "We'll have them die a thousand deaths, making them all the more vulnerable when they least expect it."
A long-haired figure stepped out from the shadows. "Say what you will," Loki said snidely, "but I am bored-bored-BORED!"
"Then perhaps you can assist Garlon," Maeve suggested. "Two pairs of eyes can spy better than one and if the situation requires it, I'm quite sure you could think of some appropriate discipline."
"Excellent suggestion," Madoc commented. "I'm sure the Halflings will appreciate your wicked sense of humor, Loki."
The Unseelie trickster strutted over to Garlon, buffing his nails on the lapel of his leather jacket. "Say, Mouse, what say we pick up Sekhmet and Anath and make this a double date?"
Garlon merely blinked at Loki and replied blandly, "Sounds fun. Why don't I douse you in catnip and let you be the scratching post this time?" He looked away from Loki's pained expression, hiding a half-smile.
A sudden gust of wind led the flames around the throne room into a merry dance. Umbriel entered to find the eyes of the Unseelie Court upon him. He bowed politely to Madoc and Maeve. "I beg your pardon, Lord Madoc, Queen Maeve. I hope I am not disturbing you?"
"Not at all, Umbriel. Garlon was telling us of his concerns regarding our halfling foot soldiers in New York." His cool gray eyes slid over Umbriel. "Perhaps you could add to his report."
"As you wish, uncle, but first," Umbriel turned and held a hand out to a figure out in the corridor, half-hidden in shadow, "we have a new arrival who has come to join your court."
Maeve's eyes lit up like emerald fireflies and her fingers tightened on the back of Madoc's throne. "Beansidhe..." she whispered eagerly in the language of the Celts.
Pale and wraith-like, the Banshee stepped into the room, clad in her true form once more. She held her head up with a fraction of her old haughtiness, allowing Umbriel to escort her to Madoc's throne. Bowing with her eyes fixed on the Unseelie lord, Banshee paid her respects, her ghostly green gown flowing about her like the mists on the moors.
"This is an unexpected treat. I was beginning to wonder if the Banshee had disappeared altogether." Madoc regarded the newcomer carefully. "Come, my dear. I'm sure my nephew Umbriel has been most persuasive but I would like to hear your reasons for joining us from your own lips."
Banshee's eyes grew distressed. She glanced at Umbriel.
"My lord," Umbriel said, "Banshee has been silenced by Oberon's hand. She wears a magical gag preventing her from using her voice and inhibiting her powers."
"How remarkably inconsiderate of him," Madoc commented. "We certainly can't have that." He reached out towards Banshee with a hooking gesture and his eyes flared bright silver like the stars.
With a loud gasp, Banshee fell to her knees on the cold stone floor. Her fingers felt nervously around her mouth for the gag that had silenced her for so long. Unexpected tears sprang to her eyes and her lips trembled as she tried to form her first words.
"L-lord Madoc," she said in a hoarse, barely audible voice, "thank you."
The Unseelie Lord nodded his head graciously. "Serve me well, Banshee, and you will find yourself well-rewarded. Fail me and losing your voice will be the least of your worries."
"Nay, Madoc," Maeve said as she stepped down from the dais. "My kinswoman will not betray us." She reached down and helped the Banshee to her feet. "Come, my dear. There's so much we must catch up on!" Her smile was viciously radiant.
* * * * *
April 5, 1998 -- Castle Wyvern, Eyrie Building
Precisely at the moment of sunset, Owen Burnett stepped out onto the battlements of Castle Wyvern. The blonde man's bland expression did not change even as the roars reverberated off the walls around him. Nudnik jumped down from the perch he shared with his young master and, catching sight of Owen, galloped eagerly in that direction.
Graeme's bellow caught Nudnik by surprise and the little gargoyle beast stopped sharply, landing abruptly on his behind. He yelped and looked back at his master.
The young gargoyle shook a dark green finger at his pet. "Now, now, we don't rush up on people, Nudnik. You know better than that."
Nudnik whined and put his head on Graeme's foot.
Graeme relented and laughed as he sank to his haunches. "It's okay, Nuddy. I'm not mad at you."
"I must say," Owen commented, "you've made considerable progress with your pet, Master Graeme. I'm very impressed."
Graeme looked wonderingly from Owen to his approaching father. "That's high praise from Owen, son," Brooklyn said cheerfully. "I'd accept it if I were you."
The young gargoyle beamed. "Gee, thanks, Owen!!"
"You're very welcome, Master Graeme." Owen acknowledged him with a nod of the head. Goliath sailed down from the tower and the blonde man turned to him as he landed. "Ah, Goliath. I have something for you from Detective Maza. She stopped by this afternoon." Owen took an envelope from inside his jacket and presented it to the large lavender gargoyle.
"Thank you, Owen," Goliath rumbled. He unsealed the envelope with his pinky talon and began to read it while Owen retreated into the castle.
"Is Elisa all right, Father?" Angela asked.
Goliath frowned slightly. "Yes, I believe so. She reports that people have seeing small flying creatures all over the city and that there's been a hash of malicious pranks. Elisa says that she herself has been seeing glimpses of things out of the corner of her eye. She wants us to keep an eye out for anything strange on our patrols tonight."
"Speaking of which," Brooklyn said decisively, "early patrol needs to be heading out." He smiled at his family. "Sata wants to put the kids through their training exercises and Lex has offered to help so they'll be on the midnight shift."
Broadway spoke up. "Angela and I will take the early shift. We were planning to go to a concert across town and we can patrol on the way."
Goliath nodded. "If you swing by Richard Harrison's place, you might tell him that his brother is still being sought after. Elisa says that the case has been lowered in priority but if Richard hears anything, she'd like him to call her."
"All right, Father," Angela replied. "I'll be sure to tell Richard that." She curled her arm around Broadway's large biceps and looked at him with luminous eyes. "Ready? The sooner we finish our patrol, the better our chances for getting there before the curtain goes up."
"After you," Broadway said good-naturedly and followed the lavender female to the castle wall.
"Robbins has invited me to his home for a game o' chess," Hudson said gruffly. "I'll take Bronx wi' me so he can run on th' beach wi' Gilly. I should be back in time to take th' late patrol."
"Take all the time you need, old friend," Goliath answered. "You've earned a quiet evening away."
"Nae, I will do my duty to th' clan, make no mistake about it," Hudson responded. "Bronx and I will do our part."
Goliath merely nodded, his eyes fixed on his daughter and her mate-to-be launching into the night sky. His brow furrowed as he reflected on how, in the past few years, he had come to regard Angela not just as one of the younger generation but as his daughter. It was still an alien concept to him, this idea of family, but one which he found himself becoming more and more comfortable with.
"They grow up so quickly, don't they?"
Goliath gave a small smile as he looked over his shoulder at his second-in-command. That was another thing that he had become accustomed in the past year; Brooklyn was no longer the daredevil youth that he was when Goliath had first selected him as his SIC, but now an older, wiser warrior with a family of his own. In a way, the Wyvern leader was pleased to see the potential he saw in Brooklyn fulfilled. "That's an ironic observation, Brooklyn," he commented, "especially coming from you."
"Well, I never did like to do things the easy way." Brooklyn crossed his arms and joined Goliath in watching Angela and Broadway sail away. "How are you taking their betrothal?"
"It is not unexpected," Goliath answered thoughtfully, "but I will admit the thought of my daughter taking a mate is strangely unsettling. In the old days, I wouldn't have given it a second thought because it would have not had any personal meaning to me. It would simply be the younger generation pairing off and continuing in the gargoyle way." He sighed wistfully. "Angela has grown on me. It is a pity I did not get to see her growing up but I can't imagine her not being part of my life now."
"Same here." Brooklyn looked over to where Sata and Lex were pairing off with Graeme and Ariana. "That business with Sara's brother frightened me more than I care to admit. Ariana's a lot like me when I was young, acting before she thinks. I'd hate to think of what could have happened to her."
"But she is safe now and I think, a little wiser for the experience." Goliath put a hand on Brooklyn's shoulder. "You and Sata have done a fine job with your hatchlings. Be as proud of them as I am of Angela."
"Thanks, Goliath. That means a lot coming from you." Sata gave a sharp glance their way and Brooklyn laughed under his breath at her arch expression. "My mate thinks we are two very lazy males who should be busy elsewhere. Join me for patrol tonight?"
Goliath looked curiously between Brooklyn and Sata. "She only raised a brow ridge at us. How did you get that interpretation without her saying a word?"
"When you've been mated as long as I long as I have, there's some things you just know." Brooklyn jumped up on the wall. "C'mon, Goliath. I'll explain it to you."
Sata watched Goliath and Brooklyn leave with the barest hint of a smile before she let her attention return to the task at hand -- training her two young warriors. It had been one of her early duties as Yoshi's second at Ishimura. Sata couldn't help but wonder how her youngsters would fare against similar young warriors from her home clan. Goliath, Elisa, and Angela had told her of visiting modern Ishimura and Sata thought often of returning there, to see if she had been remembered in the clan scrolls if nothing else.
The voices of her children brought her mind back in focus.
"You just want to get back to your little girlfriend," Ariana teased, sticking her beak up at him and grinning. "Graeme and Lucy, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-"
Graeme curled his lip and growled at his sister. "Lucy's just a kid I know in London, gigglepuss. That's all!"
Lex smiled knowingly. "Hey, Graeme, if you want, you can have the computer when we're done. I've got some reading to do anyway."
"Really?" An eager smile curled around Graeme's beak. "That would be great! Thanks, uncle!"
"Told you!" Arianna crowed. "Graeme's got a girlfriend! Graeme's got a girlfriend!' She danced away as her brother glowered at her with faintly glowing eyes.
Sata clapped her hands sharply twice. "Attend, please!! Ari-chan, please do not tease your brother. Would you like him to tease you about your Sailor Senshi penpals from Japan?"
Ariana pouted and idly rubbed the toes of one foot on the ground. "No, Mother." She sighed and glanced at her brother. "Gomenasai, Graeme-kun."
"As you very well know, there are many formalities to be observed before we handfast your brother," Sata continued seriously, tapping a talon on her chin, "We will have to employ a suitable go-between and there will, of course, have to be formal introductions to Lucy's family and, naturally, their natal horoscopes absolutely must be compatible and-" she stopped and smiled serenely at the horrified expression on her son's face.
Ariana tried futilely to hold back her own giggles. Lex looked away biting his lip and eyes dancing with amusement.
"Poor Graeme-kun," Sata said as she ruffled his thick black hair, "Cannot your unworthy mother have one little joke?"
Graeme gave a dramatic, long-suffering sigh. "Oh, I suppose so." He glanced over at Lexington. "This must be one of those female things, huh?"
"You said it, not me," Lex replied. "So, are we going to spar or what? I promised I'd call Liz later."
Sata gave him a short bow. "You are quite right, Lexington-san. We have had our fun, now to work." She shooed the twins towards the castle. "Come now, time to --- how do you say it, Ari-chan?"
The little red female giggled. "Hit the mats and kiss some stick!"
Graeme rolled his eyes and groaned.
* * * * *
Sevarius' Town House - Private Laboratory
The front door burst open and the rich, fruity tones of a baritone voice reverberated off the paneled walls as Sevarius made his way through the house. He conducted an invisible orchestra with his umbrella before flamboyantly flinging it into the umbrella stand like a lawn dart.
"I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse."
Sevarius removed his coat with a flourish and continued to sing as he strode down the hall like he was strutting downstage to bask in the footlights. He opened the door to study, infusing the lyrics with the full force of his personality.
"I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General."
A sardonic voice stopped the show. "You'll excuse me if I don't break into song."
Sevarius gaped at the brown-clad man sitting behind his desk with his feet propped up on it. He recovered his composure and sniped testily, "I don't see why not. You seem to break into everything else. Don't you people ever knock?"
Garlon smirked as he continued to scan the computer printouts in his hand. "So, Sevarius," he asked in a non-committal tone of voice, "what's this? Taking your work home with you?"
"Freelance job," Sevarius replied with a sniff. "Nothing to do with you or Maddox Technologies or anything else that might concern you, my dear Mr. Cohn."
"And you sure?" Garlon tapped his finger on the page, rattling the papers loudly. "Some of these chemical formulae look awfully familiar."
"My work is distinctive," Sevarius said scornfully. "Even my simplest equations say 'Anton Bartholomew Sevarius' with every variable and every down stroke."
Garlon's pale blue eyes focused on the scientist's face. Without breaking eye contact, he put his feet back on the floor, set the papers down on the desk, and stood up slowly. He walked up to Sevarius and circled him silently.
"Pride in your work is a wonderful thing," Garlon said finally in a low voice, "but I'd be careful if I were you. It would be just awful to discover your handiwork being used for the wrong thing."
Sevarius merely watched him from the corner of his eye. "I see. I'm so terribly pleased that you're taking an interest in my welfare."
Garlon nodded coolly. "Don't bother seeing me out," he said blandly as he walked from the room. "I know the way."
With shaking hands, Sevarius poured himself a brandy. He swung open the hidden security and watched carefully as the hidden cameras recorded Garlon's departure by the front door. The brown clad man disappeared into the evening fog rolling in.
Sevarius reached into his jacket pocket and took out his cellular phone. He punched in a number with his thumb and waited for a response.
"We need to meet," he said bluntly, "but not here. This location has been compromised." He listened intently. "Right. I'll be there within the hour."
* * * * *
Back at Unseelie Central
Once again, Madoc sat alone in his private sitting room, staring into the fireplace and brooding on events only he could see. There were no audible footsteps as the unseen one approached, no telltale clue as to his presence but without hesitation and without looking about, the Unseelie raised his voice.
The brown-clad man stepped from the shadows into the bright circle cast by the firelight. "I've done some checking around."
"It seems Sevarius is conducting some unusual research. He's dealing in mutagenics again." Garlon's pale blue eyes became flat and pupil-less as he projected a series of complicated equations in mid-air, re-playing the information he had collected for his master.
Narrowing his eyes, Madoc leaned forward in his chair. "That's the Changling Factor that Sevarius developed for us. I recognize the algorithms for the gene-resequencing procedure."
Garlon nodded, making the image bob. "This science stuff has never been my strong suite but it looks like someone has paid the doctor to find a cure to their condition." He blinked and the images disappeared. "I let Sevarius see me leave and left Loki to watch him. I'm betting that I've shook him enough that he'll probably lead us right to whoever he's working for."
Madoc mulled this news over carefully. "Loki?" he called out. "Loki, report."
A spark from the fireplace leapt up and swirled into a large globe of pulsing psychedelic light. "You rang?"
"Tell me what Sevarius is doing."
"Well, the Mouse was right. Not two minutes after he left, Mr. Mad Scientist here took off in a cab. He's headed into Manhattan now."
"Keep with him. I want to know everything."
* * * * *
The Shire Pub
The seconds thundered by as the pendulum of the antique clock on the wall ticked them off, the loudest sound in the comfortable English-style bar. Umbriel sat at the bar dressed casually in a cream fisherman's sweater and gray wool trousers, sipping an Irish coffee and reading the newspaper. The loud silence did not disturb him; in fact, Umbriel rather welcomed it like an old friend after the frenetic atmosphere of the Unseelie Court in recent weeks. Except for a few notable exceptions, he had yet to find the camaraderie and sense of family that he had been hoping to find in his uncle's house. Umbriel stifled the urge to sigh and turned the page.
The bartender stopped stocking the shelves behind the bar and stood looking towards the door for a few seconds. The burly man kicked an empty box out of the way and began to line up a series of beer mugs under the tap.
Umbriel noticed his movements out of the corner of his eye and peered around his newspaper. "What's this, Mr. Underhill? Expecting company?"
"You mean you can't hear them?" Sam Underhill said, nodding his head towards the door. The sound of feet coming down the stairs and excited voices echoing became clearer.
"Amazing!" Umbriel set down the newspaper. "How did you know? Are you psychic?"
Sam chuckled. "Oh, nothing magical about it. I saw the shadows from the streetlight on the wall when they turned the corner and the top couple of steps tend to creak. Old bartender trick."
"Very good, Mr. Underhill, very good." Umbriel leaned against the bar, crossing his arms as he let his mind drift. He smiled expectantly as he touched some familiar auras.
"Oh, yeah! We be the team supreme, uh huh!!" Zed was saying as he, Casey and a few other Halflings surged through the round entryway into the bar. They bore evidence of fighting but their faces were jubilant. "Hey, Umb!!" he called excitedly. "You should have seen our boy here!"
Umbriel did a brief sweep of Casey's aura. The strange gray stain was still there but the halfling's energy field was mostly a clear, healthy blue with excited starbursts of brilliant pink leftover from recent activity. "I take it that the mission was successful?" he said mildly before taking a sip of his coffee.
"You got it, bay-bee!!" Zed enthused, thumping Casey on the back. "Sweetest hack-and-slash I've ever been in on!"
"Ah." Umbriel nodded and marveled at Zed's colorful vocabulary, not understanding for a second what the Halfling was talking about but assuming that he meant they had positive results. "You're looking very fit," he commented to Casey as the olive-skinned man sat down at the bar. "How are you?"
"Better than I have been in a long time," Casey admitted with a wry smile. "You were right. I just needed to adapt to the increased energy flow and relax. It went all right tonight."
"Ha!" Candy draped an arm over Casey's shoulder and leaned against him. "You did better than all right, bud! Hey, Sam!! Could you switch on the tube?"
"Hey, yeah!" Zed exclaimed as he collected their drinks. "Think we made the news?"
Without missing a beat, the burly barman aimed a remote at the television mounted high over the corner of the bar. He flipped channels until he settled on the wavering image of Travis Marshall.
"-We have some breaking news at the Brooklyn Marine Terminal. We're taking you live to Nicole St. John at the scene. Nicole?"
The camera segued away to an attractive blonde standing against a backdrop of foggy orange haze and shadowy structures. "Nicole St. John here at the Brooklyn Marine Terminal at the scene of some mysterious and costly vandalism. For reasons yet unknown, vandals swept through the docks here like a force of nature - destroying property, setting fire to warehouse and scuttling boats in the harbor. The worst, according to the harbormaster, is a technological disaster of the highest magnitude."
Eyes dancing with excitement, Zed leaned against the bar, rattling the glasses. "Here it comes! Here it comes!"
"While firefighters and dock workers were trying to control the situation at the docks," Nicole continued, "someone broke into the computer system and used it to hack into the Port Authority computers. In this day of high technology, most ships rely on computer navigation to maneuver through the shifting channels of the New York and New Jersey waterways."
A commotion erupted off-camera and Nicole's eyes widened. "Can we get a shot of that?"
"Nicole?" Travis Marshal asked, touching his fingers to his earpiece. "Nicole, what's happening?"
"What's happening, Travis, is what Port Authority officials were dreading," Nicole replied. The camera tightened on a splash of light out in the water. The image focused on a small ship floundering, its crew running about on its deck in a panic. "As you see, reliance on computer navigation is proving to be a major disability, especially with the build-up of muddy silt in the Hudson channel. The PA has put out an emergency call for all qualified river pilots to guide ships into port. Tugboats are being dispatched to take soundings and set marker buoys. It's an old-fashioned solution but it's either that or lose the over fourteen billion dollars in revenue that our ports bring in yearly."
A huge whoop arose from the Halflings assembled and drowned out the rest of the news report. Zed turned to slap a high five with Candy. The feisty female reached over to wrap her arms around Casey's shoulders in a brief hug. The olive-skinned halfling grinned and looked inordinately pleased with himself.
"Hey!" Zed protested. "What about me? I helped!"
"I wouldn't hug you if you were the last man on earth."
"Aw, c'mon....!" Zed followed Candy off, spouting a pleading litany of familiar phrases that Umbriel had heard in the battle of the sexes for generations.
"Very nicely done, Casey," George, the fiery-haired leader of the Halflings, said. "It seems you just needed a little time to sort out what that computer virus did to you."
"Maybe," Casey admitted, "but Umbriel here has been a big help. If it wasn't for his showing me how to control the energy surges, I'd still be a basket case."
George nodded at the Unseelie sitting at the bar. "Thanks," he said, "I'm sure Madoc is pleased to know that you've helped make Casey a functional foot soldier again."
The words were politely said but Umbriel could sense the wariness behind them. "I was happy to share what I've learned over the years," he answered simply. "Knowledge is nothing if you keep it to yourself."
George's eyes flicked towards Casey and back again but he didn't say a word. Before Umbriel could form a suitable inquiry, Zed bounced back over.
"Say, Umb, old buddy!" Zed dropped his voice, "I've been talking with some of the others and we were wondering - would you mind showing us some new tricks too? I mean, after what you did with Casey..."
"Yeah," Casey agreed, "I'd like that too. It's too easy to have things pop into your head when you need them. Now that I have to consciously have to think of what I need to do, it just seems like I have more control. It feels good - different, but good."
"Well, all right then." Umbriel glanced over at the bartender. "I'm going to borrow your back room for a while, Mr. Underhill, if that's quite all right with you."
Sam waved him off as he put a drink neatly on a cocktail napkin in front of a customer. "Go ahead, that's what it's there for."
"Very well." Umbriel collected his Irish coffee and stood up. "School is now in session."
* * * * *
"Bo-o-o-o-o-oring!" Loki said to himself. Sevarius was being ridiculously paranoid. The human scientist had taken a cab, then a train and now was in yet another cab, heading deeper into Manhattan. On a whim, Loki had materialized on a side street while Sevarius' taxi was stopped at a light and took the guise of a red-headed man in a long duster-style coat, denim jeans and plaid shirt. He strode right out in traffic and got into a cab.
The driver turned around. "Hey!"
Loki thrust a twenty-dollar bill at him. "Follow that car." He grinned. "I've always wanted to say that."
Insane laughter rolled out of the back seat. The driver just muttered under his breath. "Tourists."
* * * * *
The handful of Halflings and Umbriel sat around the round card table in the corner of the room. George watched cautiously from the doorway as Umbriel instructed them to rest their hands on the table. To the average onlooker, it was a tame enough scene but to George's enhanced sight, individual energy swirled together in a softly glowing haze like back room cigarette smoke.
"Calmly, slowly, sink into yourselves," Umbriel said in a quiet voice. "Find the center of yourselves."
"Wanna bet he tells us to use the Force next?"
"Shut up, Zed."
Umbriel laughed without opening his eyes. "The Force is as good an analogy as any, I suppose. What you do now by tapping into ley lines is merely the tip of the iceberg. True fay can store energy in their bodies and as result, they are far more powerful than you and I are."
"Why are you telling us this?" Casey asked in a murmuring voice.
"In time, you may have to face the forces of Avalon. There are things you can learn now that might save you then." Umbriel took a deep breath out and let it out slowly. "Now, do you remember the night we first met when you nearly lost control? The wards your friends cast were not strong enough to hold back your power but mine were."
"How'd you do that anyway?" Zed asked curiously. "We never sensed you coming."
"With all the psychic static Casey was generating, I'm not surprised. He's very noisy." Umbriel snorted. "But by reflecting the ley lines away from him, I was able to honeycomb my wards around him. The multiple walls of my wards made it possible to isolate Casey from his power source. It took little effort on my part and yielded large results."
"Sounds a lot like high school geometry," Candy commented. "Frankly, I thought I was done with higher math."
"Magic requires a disciplined mind," Umbriel answered. "This isn't like the basic spells that were hard-wired into your brains. This will require preparation and practice."
"Yeah, Candy," Zed quipped. "Think of it as Hocus Pocus 101."
Rolling his eyes, George left them to their studies. He was still uncertain about Umbriel's loyalties. Maybe it was just his suspicious nature but he couldn't believe that Umbriel was as big a saint as Zed and Casey were making him out to be. No one related to Madoc could be that pure at heart.
Sevarius came in, looked a little wild around the eyes. He ordered a brandy at the bar and took it to a shadowed booth on the far side of the room. Glancing nervously around the room and hunching over the table, he practically screamed 'Look at me!' George groaned and meandered across the room.
"You know, Doctor," he said offhandedly, "you'd attract less attraction if you just acted normally." George re-considered. "Or at least slightly less melodramatic."
The geneticist glared at him. "You may joke at my expense now, Mr. Harrison, but finding that mousy muscle man that works for Maddox sitting in MY chair in MY house..."
Sevarius shot a nervous glance around as he leaned forward. "I don't believe he found any evidence of our little project. I've kept that research tucked away, triple-encrypted in a special password-guarded disc that was luckily not in the house at the time. However, he did find some of the notes from the more recent alterations I've been making in the Changling factor." He raised his eyebrows. "Hardly the sort of thing that I'd care for Maddox to find out about."
* * * * *
"And let that be a lesson to you," Loki said sternly as he shook his finger at the black-and-white striped lemur that clung to the steering wheel of the taxi cub stranded up on the curb. "When someone says 'Follow that cab', that means you'd better not lose it and especially NOT mutter uncomplimentary things about your passengers under your breath."
The lemur peered owlishly at the Unseelie trickster and made a feeble squeak. It looked rather shocked and stared down at its own muzzle as if not quite believing what it was hearing.
"Oh, apologizing now will never do," Loki answered back. "You'll thank me for this later, mark my words." He leaned in and smiled wickedly. "Humanity is on its way out. I just did you a favor, my hairy friend."
The terrified shriek that answered Loki had a delightfully human tone to the upper octaves. "The zoo will be puzzling over you until Doomsday," he chuckled to himself, "not that it will be that terribly far away." He peered over the heads of the gathering crowd. "Now where did that pompous fool get off to?" His eyes drifted down row after row of storefronts before his pupils turned flame red.
"There you are," Loki murmured. He stalked across the street, oblivious to the screeching brakes and honking horns all around him. The mayhem of the motorists behind him put a smile on his face.
* * * * *
"Blast." George stared at the ice melting in his drink for a few seconds. "Where are we in the project? Do you need more time?"
"No, we can move up the time table," Sevarius answered. "We're at the point that we should start matching possible gene donors." He reached into his pocket and slid a compact hypogun across the table. It was easily concealed under his hand and George neatly swept it out of sight the same way. "All I need is a few cc's of blood. If you can't get it to me immediately, keep it refrigerated. It must be cultured as soon as possible."
"I can get you the samples tomorrow," George said with a curt nod. "Where should I take it?"
Sevarius scribbled an address on his cocktail napkin. "Meet me here after seven p.m. I've rented some medical facilities under the name Dr. Konrad. I'll leave word with the security guard that I've expecting a delivery. He'll send you on up."
"All right." George started to fold up the napkin but stopped with the paper trapped between his fingers. An icy hot prickle was creeping up his neck. His head turned towards the door.
* * * * *
In the game room, Umbriel paused in mid-lesson and frowned. "That's odd," he said softly. "That's very, very odd."
"What?" Zed looked up from where he and Candy were levitating balls over the pool table. The eight-ball dropped with a sharp thud and rolled into the corner pocket.
"Something is coming." Umbriel cocked his head as if listening.
Casey joined him. "Sort of red?" he asked. "Like an angry ball of fire?"
"Yes." Umbriel's hazel eyes glowed with an inner sea green light. "I'm not sure who's approaching with so many other magic users present. We'd best ward now until we know who is it."
"Like this?" Casey asked and put action to his words. His force of will surged out and struck the first ley line, passing through it like a prism, rebounding to the next and the next, faster, FASTER --- Umbriel gasped. The olive-skinned halfling's power was wrapping the pub in ribbons of tainted blue light like a holiday package.
"Careful now," Umbriel hissed, eyes narrowed as his mind sought to follow what normal sight could not. "Careful... this could be an ally or an enemy. We don't know yet."
* * * * *
Outside, people passing by were treated to the innocuous sight of a red-headed man walking into an invisible wall and swearing. "By Hel's unholy hordes!" Loki swore. "Whose big idea is this, shutting me out?"
Flames shimmered around the green-painted round entry way, turning it into a mundane ghost of the Phoenix Gate. Irritated at the reminder of his former prison, Loki snarled and blasted the wards.
* * * * *
"OWCH!" Casey yelped and stared as the back of his hand blackened and blistered. "What th'---?"
Zed whistled. "That's not what I'd call friendly, bud. Give 'im what for."
"No, wait!" Umbriel's eyes widened. "He could be too strong for you! Stop, I command you!" He could tell by the determined look on Casey's face that the words had left his lips too late.
* * * * *
"What is it?" Sevarius hissed. "Your eyes are glowing!"
George ground his teeth against the magical static that was filling the long dark-paneled room, just as many of his fellow Halflings were doing. The sound of confused voices droned into a higher, more frantic pace.
* * * * *
Dropping his red-headed illusion, Loki ignored the crowd gathering and continued to hammer at the mystical wards barring him from the Shire Pub. His lips curled back in triumph as he felt them start to weaken.
"Now I've got you," he muttered. "Try to trick a trickster, will you?"
A flash of blue-gray light zipped past the corner of his eye. Then another and another. Loki felt the wards unfold themselves from around the pub and start wrapping around him. The air pressure around him intensified, pressing against his lungs. He glanced up and saw a wall of gray-streaked blue slamming down at him like Thor's hammer.
"Next time," he snapped and opened a teleportation portal beneath his feet.
To the disbelieving eyes of the crowd, it looked like the strange man had simply sank into the sidewalk. A few approached and scuffed the concrete with a cautious toe but eventually, the New Yorker survival instincts kicked in. The city-dwellers shrugged it off as just another strange coincidence and went on their way, blissfully ignorant of events yet to come.
* * * * *
"Harrison!" Sevarius reached across the table and shook him. "Harrison, what's happening?"
George let out the breath he'd been unaware of holding and blinked owlish at the scientist. "It's nothing. Whatever it was, it's gone now." He slowly forced himself to relax, noting the red indentations where his fingernails had dug into his hands. "It's all right now. I'll deliver the samples to the lab just as we agreed. Business as usual, Doctor."
* * * * *
"Wow." Casey fell back to rest against the pool table. He stared at his scorched hands numbly, watching the blisters rise. "Wow. What a rush."
Candy made a face. "What an idiot." She dumped the remainder of her drink into a bar towel and wrapped it around his hands. "Were you this much of a risk-taker before you got upgraded or is this a side of computer geeks that I just haven't seen before?"
Zed shook his head. "Nope, our boy Casey here is the original nerd."
"Still, it was an amazing display of your talents," Umbriel said in a shaky voice. "Why didn't you stop when I told you to wait?"
"I don't know," Casey admitted. "Maybe I was just on a roll or something."
Umbriel's forehead knotted as he considered the possible implications. Perhaps it was just that he and Casey had spent a good amount of time together straightening out the jangled mess the computer worm had made of his powers but the geas Madoc had placed on the Halflings applied to Umbriel as well. Somehow, in the heat of the moment, Casey had managed to override it and was no longer bound to that restriction.
He stepped back into the shadows and watched as the game room filled with the rest of Casey's fellow Halflings, all intent on finding out what had just happened. Casey's smile grew more self-confident with each congratulation. Umbriel forced a pleasant expression of his own in order to share in their camaraderie.
"Heaven help you if my uncle ever learns what you can do, my friend," Umbriel murmured beneath his shallow smile. "Heaven help us all."
* * * * *
"By the nine worlds of Niflheim," Loki swore angrily, "When I find the one that did this to me, I'll feed him piece by piece to the dragon Nidhogg for all eternity!"
"How very Nordic," Madoc commented. "Using such oaths does not bode well for your task."
"They shut me out!" Loki exclaimed excitedly. "They managed to set up some wards around their meeting place and when I started to break through, they turned the wards back to crush me!" He snarled and stalked up the length of the room and back again. "Luckily, the fools didn't think to guard beneath my feet, otherwise my goose would've been cooked."
Garlon stepped out of the shadows. "Calm down. Now, where did Sevarius lead you?"
"Some bar called The Shire Pub. Someone even put in one of those hobbit doors right out of Tolkien." Loki snorted. "How hokey can you get?"
"I've followed Harrison there before," Garlon stated flatly. He began counting on his fingers. "Sevarius, the Halflings, this attack on Loki - coincidence? I don't think so."
Madoc studied his two lieutenants carefully before choosing his next words. "I believe it may be necessary to remind the half-breeds of New York to whom they owe their loyalty." He returned his attention to the dancing flames.
"What's the plan?" Garlon asked, as he took his place to the right of Madoc's chair. "Something suitably instructive, I hope?"
Narrowing his eyes, Madoc slowly began to smile. "Let's just say that it's time I took a personal interest in the Halflings' affairs."
* * * * *
April 6, 1998 -- Westside Medical Center, early afternoon
"Now, now...," the plump nurse crooned as she took the baby's leg in her gloved hands, "hold her tight. This will only take a few seconds if we can keep her still long enough."
Quinn nodded as she took a firm grip on Hope's other leg. Richard had Hope sitting on his lap this time with his arms wrapped around her to keep her firmly in place. The first time, when Quinn had been holding her and the nurse tried to draw some blood, Hope had squalled like a wet cat and fought like a tiger. Richard didn't know who had cried more - the baby or her mother. It had taken fifteen minutes to calm them both down and try again.
"Okay... ready?" The nurse jabbed the needle home and Richard discovered just how strong a five-month-old infant could be. He tightened his arms just a little when he saw the nurse release the butterfly clamp and blood trickling down the narrow tube into the tiny pediatric collection vial.
"It's okay, baby," Quinn whispered raggedly. "Almost done, almost done." Richard glanced at her anxiously. Quinn sniffed and smiled wanly at him but he could tell by the shiny wetness of her eyes how close to tears she was again.
"That's enough," the nurse said firmly. She quickly removed the needle and bandaged the tiny wound smoothly. "You can get her dressed now. I'll have the lab process this now while you wait." She smiled as Richard cradled Hope against his chest, comforting her. "It's always harder on the parents when the kids are this age, poor baby."
Richard waited until she had left the room before telling Hope, "It's okay, kiddo. The mean ol' nurse is gone now, yes, she is." Hope whimpered and snuggled into his chest.
"I don't know what I would have done without you today," Quinn said as she busied herself with dressing Hope. "If I'd known that the blood test was going to upset her so, I wouldn't have agreed to it."
"I know, sweetheart, but Hope's too little to tell us where it hurts. The blood test will tell the doctors what to prescribe for her."
"Yeah, but it hurts me!" Quinn exclaimed indignantly. The funny expression on her face was so appealing that Richard couldn't help but kiss her.
Hope squirmed between them. Quinn laughed as she pushed away. "Poor baby. First she's shish-ka-bobbed and now she's turned into a sandwich."
Richard looked down at Hope and laughed. "I guess that explains why she's trying to eat my sweater."
Quinn checked her watch. "Oh, dear. Her feeding's long overdue." She gave Richard a little self-conscious smile. "And, Rich, I'm afraid you don't have the right equipment for the job."
"Oh?" Then the full implication hit home. "OH! Oh, well, um..., where are you going to...?" Richard asked awkwardly as he handed the hungry baby over.
"There's a separate waiting room upstairs just for nursing mothers." Quinn stood up and slung the diaper bag over her shoulder. "We'll only be twenty minutes or so. There's a deli down in the lobby. Would you get me some fruit juice or something? Breast-feeding Hope always makes me really thirsty."
"Your wish is my command, fair lady," Richard said dramatically. He escorted them upstairs before heading downstairs. The deli had nothing but grapefruit juice, which Richard knew that Quinn absolutely hated, so he headed outside. He was too busy looking at storefronts to pay any attention to the bicyclist in hooded sweats and sunglasses trailing behind him down the street.
* * * * *
George couldn't believe his good luck. He'd been coasting around the streets near Columbia University for several hours, uncertain of Richard's class schedule, and as result had drifted from his brother's apartment building to the University to Schlatter's drugstore and back again. He was beginning to think that Richard had left town when he spied Richard coming out of a medical building. George followed from a discreet distance until Richard went into a small grocery store on the corner.
He left his bike leaning up against the side of the building and peered in through the front window. It took a few minutes to spy Richard back by the refrigerator case, selecting a couple of bottles. George waited until his brother went to the counter before blending with a group of people waiting for a bus. He watched from the corner of his eye as Richard started back the way he'd came and slipped after him like a shadow.
At the first convenient moment, he struck.
"Hey-mmmmmpH!!!" Richard protested as a leather glove covered his mouth and he was suddenly dragged into the darkened alleyway.
"Sssh!!" George hissed. "Easy now, Rich. Calm down, I'm not going to hurt you."
He waited until Richard relaxed before letting him go. His brother turned and actually glared at him. "What are doing, George? Don't you know that the police are looking for you?"
"Why'd you think I brought you into the alley?" George shrugged. "I need a favor, bro."
Richard raised an eyebrow. "Not again, George. I'm not going to get involved with all that craziness you're messed up with."
"I think I found a way out." George took a deep breath and his eyes softened. "It's a cure, Richard, but I need some of your blood."
"A cure?" Richard blinked and shook his head. "How? Why my blood?"
"It's kind of complicated," George answered. A siren wailed up the street. Quickly, George pulled out the hypogun out of his bellybag and yanked up Richard's sleeve. "And I just don't have the time." He pressed the compact instrument to the crook of Richard's arm and quickly extracted a neat vial of blood. "Thanks, Rich."
George dashed down the alley and leaped onto a ley line, sliding up the side of the building and out of sight before Richard had a chance to say anything.
* * * * *
Slack-jawed, Richard stood staring upwards as his brother made his getaway. "Wow," he said numbly, "now there's something you don't see outside of a comic book."
He rubbed his arm absently and then his eyes widened. "Uh, oh. Better check on Quinn and Hope."
He bolted from the alley and ran up the street, dodging pedestrians as he raced back to the medical center. Richard slowed down a little inside the building but when the elevator was too slow, he dashed up three flights of stairs and threw open the door of the new mothers' waiting room. There was no one in sight.
"Quinn?" he said breathlessly. "QUINN!?!"
"Shhh!!" came her voice from around the corner. Richard looked around the edge of the door and discovered that the waiting room was actually L-shaped, extending farther back. Quinn had a light baby blanket tossed over her shoulder and Hope's pink-clad legs protruded from it. "We're not quite finished here, Richard," Quinn said in a quiet yet perplexed voice. "Are you all right?"
Richard felt his face grow hot as he realized what he must look like to her. "Oh..., ah..., I'm sorry, I had to go down the street for your juice and I thought I was late."
Quinn stifled a laugh. "You're sweet but you hurried for nothing. Little Miss Hope here is taking her time. Another five or ten minutes and we'll be done."
"Okay," Richard said with a relieved smile. He took a bag out of his pocket and set it in the neighboring chair, shyly averting his eyes. "Here's your juice. I need to make a quick phone call anyway."
Outside the door, Richard let out a loud sigh of relief. They were both safe. For a few terrible moments, he'd thought the worst of his brother. "Still," he said thoughtfully, "better safe than sorry." He dug out some pocket change while he walked down the hall to the phone.
"I really hate to do this, bro," Richard murmured as he lifted the receiver and put in the coins. He turned so he was facing the waiting room where two of the dearest people in his life were waiting and deep in his soul, Richard weighed the consequences of his next words.
"Yes, Detective Elisa Maza, please. It's urgent."
* * * * *
From the top of the four-story building bordering the alley, George could see the police car with lights and siren blazing as it turned the corner. He gave himself a few seconds to relax and turned to take one last look at his brother, just in time to see Richard run from the alley.
"Huh." George raised an eyebrow. He'd half-expected to see Richard looking up at him. "What's the big rush, I wonder?"
Curious, George trailed Richard back to the Medical Center. His brother hadn't seemed sick but if he was, there was the outside chance that it could affect the plans Sevarius had for Richard's blood sample. Better safe than sorry. Breaking into the building was a snap and 'borrowing' some scrubs and ID from an unfortunate orderly on his way to the roof for a smoke was just as easy.
"You know," George said as he deposited the man, secured with medical tape at wrists and ankles, "this might be a good time to quit smoking." He smirked. "It can get you in a LOT of trouble." The man merely nodded numbly with one of his own socks crammed in his mouth as the door of the janitor's closet swung shut.
George took the steel clipboard the orderly had with him and proceeded to stalk through the medical center as if he was just another employee in hurry. A quick look at the building directory eliminated a few floors almost immediately; he didn't think Richard had a use for an OB/GYN or a geriatric specialist. His Unseelie enhancements couldn't single out Richard from the other human auras in the building so George had to do it the hard way, a quick sweep of each floor and then down to the next. Coming out of the stairwell on the fourth floor, he opened the door to hear an announcement over the intercom.
"Hope Ramsey, please return to Dr. Milionis' office. Hope Ramsey to Dr. Milionis' office."
George stopped in his tracks, puzzled. "Now why does that sound familiar?" The sound the words left his lips, he could hear Richard's voice in his head.
"Quinn told me Jayce Roberts was Hope's father. It wasn't hard to figure out," There was a determined, earnest look in Richard's eyes as he took a deep breath. "I really care about her and her baby, George. I don't want anything to happen to them."
A door down the hall opened and a brunette with short hair came out with Richard following behind carrying the diaper bag. George shook his head. "Geez, Rich, she's got you henpecked already," he mumbled. "Didn't you pay attention when I told you about women?" He was prepared to leave when Quinn spoke up.
"I hope they found something on those blood tests. I'm not putting my baby through all that again."
"Don't worry, Quinn," Richard answered. "I'm sure they did."
Quickly, George looked around and found directions to the lab on the wall. He accosted the first lab technician he could find. "Where are the blood tests that Dr. Milionis just ordered on the Ramsey baby?" he demanded.
"We just sent the results down to his office," the technician answered, not lifting her eyes from her paperwork. "Check with them."
"Maybe you didn't hear me," George said, reaching over to grip the young woman by the chin. His eyes glowed a brilliant blue. "Where-is-the-blood-from-the-Ramsey-baby?"
Numbly, the technician pointed behind her.
Moving like a sleepwalker, the young woman drifted across the room to retrieve a shallow tray. She carried it back to George who snatched it up to check. There wasn't much blood remaining in the tiny vial but hopefully enough for Sevarius' tests. A copy of Hope's medical form was there and he stuffed that in his belt bag along with the hypogun.
"I-was-never-here," George told her. "Count-to-fifty-and-go-back-to-work."
George walked to the next staff only section and neatly appropriated someone's overcoat to put over his borrowed scrubs. He stuffed his hands in the pockets and started downstairs. Navigating the crowd of people in the lobby, however, was complicated by the presence of uniformed police officers and two very familiar detectives running the show. The dark-haired woman in the red jacket and the red-headed man in the trenchcoat weren't exactly detaining people but they were looking them over very closely.
"Swell," George muttered, "just swell." He knew his ability to cloud people's minds worked best one-on-one. There was a chance he might get by Maza or Bluestone, but not both. He edged over to the nearest window. "What I need is a little diversion."
As he narrowed his eyes, George could see two ley lines crossing each other out in the street. With a subtle flex of his will, he threw up a force field directly in the line of traffic. Two cars slammed into it like a brick wall and another jumped the curb, narrowly missing several pedestrians. Maza rushed out with most of the uniformed cops. Bluestone remained behind with a couple of others to calm the crowd.
George shoved his way to the front and flashed his ID at Bluestone. "Let me through! Those people need medical attention!"
Bluestone gave the laminated card the barest look and nodded. "All right! Elisa," he said into his lapel mike, "I've got a medic coming out to help."
"That's what you think, sucker," George commented with a harsh laugh as he promptly headed away from the mess he'd just caused. Unfortunately, the lady cop was on top of her game.
"Hey, you! Where are you going?" Realization dawned in Maza's voice. "That's our perp! Morgan, O'Malley! You've got traffic duty. Matt, Harrison's on foot, heading north from the medical center!" The thunder of running feet drowned out the sound of her voice.
Glancing back, George could see the police getting closer. He grinned like a madman and turned into the alley. Their shouts of frustration were music to his ears as he sailed away on the ley line. He patted the blood samples in his bellybag gently.
"Now I've got to get these little gems in a fridge until this evening," George said, thinking out loud. "I can't go home or to my crash pad at the warehouse." He smiled, a cool maniacal smile. "Lucky for me, I've got friends...."
* * * * *
Candy groaned under her breath at the heavy footsteps following her up the stairs. Even before her transformation, she was a girl who could handle the biggest jerks that would not take no for an answer but this time it was different. She had to work with this bozo.
Without turning around, she called out, "Vince, what do you want?"
The big Halfing came into lighted hallway and spread his hands. "Hey, can't a guy walk a girl home?"
"No." Candy sighed and dug in her pocket for her keys. "I'm a big girl, Vince. I can take care of myself."
"Aw, c'mon," Vince wheedled, "your roomie's going to be out with the flying bug squad for hours. Let's get to know each other a little better, whatcha say?"
Candy found herself being backed into the door. She started to scowl and draw in her power when she felt the door locks being opened from inside her apartment. Her lips curled in a cool smile as she recognized her rescuer in the corner of her eye.
George stood there barefoot, wearing a pair of gray sweat pants and a towel draped over his shoulders. His wet hair was still dripping. "Hey, Vince," he said blandly, nodding at the ex-Dracon goon. He smiled and encircled Candy in a one-armed hug. "Hi, babe. Hard day at work?" George kept an eyelock on Vince while he absently planted a kiss on the top of her head.
"What a nice surprise!" Candy said brightly, going along with it in spite of the fact his wet skin was soaking into her shirt. "I thought you were going to be busy."
"I heard Rita was going out with the wisps." George gave her a warm look. "The thought of spending a little quality time with you was just too good to pass up."
Vince shifted his feet, scuffing the carpet. "Well, I can see where this is going," he said awkwardly. "I'm outta here."
"See you around, Vince," George said pleasantly. He and Candy stood in the doorway watching until the other Halfling disappeared down the stairs.
The second the door was shut, Candy scowled at him. "What have I told you about picking my locks?"
"Temper, temper. Under the circumstances, I think I just did you a favor." George sniffed the air incredulously. "What was that stuff he's wearing? It smelled like springtime at the zoo."
"Okay, okay." Candy hung her jacket over the back of a chair. "I'll admit that your little display of affection has probably chased off Vince for a while. You're off the hook for now, George. What's up?"
"The water's off at my place so I used your shower." He wandered back into her kitchen and held up a white paper bag. "In return for services rendered, I bought dinner. You still like spring rolls?"
Candy raised an eyebrow and joined him in the kitchen, pulling out a stool to sit on. "Uh, oh," she commented as she watched George dishing up the take-out food. "It must be big."
"What?" George asked, looking up with his blue eyes wide and innocent.
The scary thing about that puppy dog look of his, Candy realized, was that he made it seem so sincere. She shook her head, not buying it for an instant, and dipped a spring roll in the tub of sauce. "C'mon, George. We've worked together too long to play these games."
"Okay," he said finally, between forkfuls of noodles out of a take-out box. "I was running a scam and I got found out. The alias I was using is no good and the police are staking out my place." He laughed. "Besides, I really needed a bath. I would've made Vince smell good."
"Hoo boy." Candy rolled her eyes and continued to eat. "Do you need a place to crash?"
"Well, your couch is pretty comfy, but I don't really trust your roomie yet. It's not the Ritz, but I've got a place to go."
"Heck, even I lock my bedroom door around here. I don't know what happened with her procedure but Rita's teeth are getting all pointy."
"Like a snake." Candy shuddered.
Even George looked vaguely disturbed about that. "Candace," he said thoughtfully, "do you ever regret what we've done to ourselves?"
"Not really," Candy said. She poked through the take-out boxes to see what other goodies were there. "All my life, I've been battering against the glass ceiling, trying to get ahead. Castaway gave me a chance to prove myself and Maddox gave me a way to take it even further." She shrugged. "When the dust settles, I'm going to be one of the ones left standing. Why'd you ask?"
"No reason. Just asking."
"The only thing I regret," she continued, "is not doing it sooner. If the Quarrymen had squashed those gargoyles, quick and dirty like we should have, the P.I.T. Crew wouldn't have gotten started and I'd still have Andy."
George nodded. "Yeah, I'd forgotten about her."
"It's no biggie. We would have probably broken up anyway. The art stuff was starting to take up a lot of our time together." Candy sighed. "But the past's the past. Can't change it so why worry?"
"Hakuna matata!" George said brightly.
Candy groaned and threw the rest of her spring roll at him.
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, Eyrie Building -- sundown
Elisa's face was like a cinnabar stormcloud as she stalked across the courtyard flagstones towards the newly-awakened gargoyles. They watched her approach with nervous curiosity.
"Uh oh," Broadway said cautiously, "somebody's in trouble."
Goliath soared down to land among them and he, too, eyed his beloved with careful respect. "Elisa," he rumbled. "You seem pre-occupied. Is there anything we can do?"
"You could give me George Harrison's head on a stick," she grumbled. "The first real chance we have to nab him and he ran right up the side of a building in broad daylight." She sighed and glanced at Angela. "Your friend Richard gave us the lead. He was really reluctant to rat on his brother but he was afraid for his girlfriend's safety."
"I'll have to call Richard," Angela said. "He'll want to know."
"When you do," Broadway suggested, "why not ask him for his girlfriend's address? We'll add her to our patrol route."
Wordlessly, Angela reached out and caressed his aquamarine cheek, her sparkling eyes saying more than she herself could possibly say.
"Good move, Broadway!" Lex commented privately to Brooklyn and Sata.
Brooklyn laughed. "Shows he's capable of learning."
"Broadway-san has a quick mind as well as a good heart," Sata commented. "Perhaps he can tutor you in the ways of the romantic arts."
The red gargoyle smiled slyly at his mate. "No need to drop hints, Sata. Hudson's already offered to give the twins a lesson on swordplay so we can have our date night." He nuzzled her cheek. "I'll show you who's the most romantic male around here."
"Yes," Sata agreed, a small smile dancing about her lips. "You will."
Lexington rolled his eyes. "Boy, I'm glad my hormones aren't controlling me!"
Brooklyn aimed a playful swat at him with his tail. "You just wait, Lex. I'll see you eat those words!"
Laughing, Lex dodged him and went over to join Goliath and Elisa. The tall lavender gargoyle regarded him benevolently. "Ah, Lexington. It's you and I for patrol duty tonight. Elisa was just telling me of all the chaos the Unseelie have caused today."
"Yeah," Elisa said, "and those weird little flying things were reported all over town. People don't know whether to call the cops or the exterminator."
"So who you gonna call?" Lexington shrugged. "Guess it's up to us then." He caught the look that passed between Goliath and Elisa and knew they hadn't heard a word he'd said. "I'll be over here," he pointed towards the wall, "when you're ready to go, Goliath."
It wasn't much longer until the web-winged gargoyle and his clan leader were airborne and sailing over the western edge of Central Park. Goliath cleared his throat. "Thank you for giving Elisa and I a few moments to ourselves back at the castle. We appreciated it."
"Think nothing of it, Goliath."
"But it is something, Lexington," Goliath rumbled. "Your rookery brothers have found their mates and Hudson and I worry about you. It is not fair that you remain alone."
"Life isn't supposed to be fair," Lex commented, looking straight ahead. "There were always the lone warriors that went mateless in the old days. Hudson chose to lead the clan that way."
"But his younger days, he did have a mate. You were very young when she died in battle but I remember it. Hudson chose to remain mateless out of respect for her." Goliath frowned at the younger gargoyle's stoic expression. "Sata has been spoken to me about returning to Ishimura to visit her ancestral clan. It's entirely possible than Xanatos would be agreeable to a trip to Japan. He has several business interests there."
"Yeah, I've alpha-tested some of the video games coming out of his Tokyo office," Lex said. "They're not too shabby. Liz says they need to increase their-"
"There's also the London clan to consider as well," Goliath interrupted. "You could easily find a gargoyle mate if you-"
Lex sighed. "It isn't that big of a deal, Goliath. I like my life the way it is. I don't need a mate to make me happy."
"But, Lexington," Goliath continued, in that patient tone of voice Lex remembered from his rookery days, "with your rookery brothers mated, there's no reason why --"
"Look, Goliath, it's NOT that big a deal." Lexington ground his teeth. "Now, could we PLEASE change the subject?" He swung out a body's length away from the larger gargoyle.
Goliath's broad brow wrinkled with concern as he regarded Lex. He started to speak when a brilliant light erupted on the garden grounds below. The lavender gargoyle roared and shielded his eyes. "Lexington!! My eyes!! What can you see?"
"I'm on it, Goliath." Grimly, Lexington scanned their surroundings as the filters kicked in to compensate on his cybernetic optics. The gardens below were largely abandoned save for three distinct figures. "I see the trouble," he said evenly as his eyes zoomed in with a rare audible whirrr. "It's... it's....," his lips curled back into a snarl.
"Lexington, no!! Wait for me!"
The web-winged gargoyle was beyond hearing as he folded up his wings against his body and dove like an olive-skinned missile to the ground below. A merry voice called out, "Pull!!" and two bolts of energy sizzled towards him. Lex swerved around them but the third, a double-barreled burst of starfire, blasted him from the sky, plowing the easily-cultivated flower beds with gargoyle.
Through the fuzzy red haze filling his head, Lexington could hear the tapping sound of a silver-tipped cane on concrete as it came closer. "Pity," came the cold voice. "He had such promise."
Another voice spoke, quieter and more secret. "You want to finish him now?"
"No. I have plans for my former friend here."
The sound of footsteps faded away.
* * * * *
BioTech Industries building - 7:00 p.m.
After a terse inspection from the night watchman, George was ushered into a private elevator. The doors opened on to steel-and-glass hodgepodge of scientific equipment. Sevarius looked up expectedly from his seat at the computer. "Did you get it?" he asked without preamble.
George held out an insulated pouch. "Here you go, Doctor. You said that relatives would be the best donors, didn't you?"
"I see you're prompt and efficient as always," Sevarius said as he took the samples. Tapping the vials, he checked the consistency of the blood. "You followed my instructions and kept the blood chilled, I see." He frowned. "Although it's a little short on this sample here," he said disapprovingly of the smaller vial.
"The donor was very young," George said simply. "Now what?"
"Now, my dear Mr. Harrison," Sevarius said as he carefully put the samples in clear tubes and marked them 'A' and 'B', "I get to do that voodoo I do so well." He turned to the machine behind him. "This is one of BioTech's top-of-the-line cellular bioreactors. I've used it to prepare cultures from your blood cells and now I'll use it to process these samples."
"How long will it take?"
"Oh, hardly any time at all," Sevarius said. He tapped in some instructions on the keyboard before stepping down to the end of the lab table. "Just enough time for a cup of European roast." He poured himself a cup and paused before pouring a second, glancing from the coffee pot in his hand to the sullen Halfling.
"No, thanks," George replied snidely. "I don't want to explode."
"Ah, well," Sevarius said, knowing full well the effect he was having as he sipped the aromatic brew. "It's just as well. It's dreadfully bad for you."
"Not as bad as some things I could come up with," George growled under his breath. He spent the better part of an hour contriving suitable ways to torture the rogue scientist until a loud beep dragged Sevarius away from his coffee break.
"Well, let's see what we've managed to cook up here, shall we?" Sevarius said as he booted up his monitor. He began flipping up windows and, for a few seconds, George wished he had brought Zed along to interpret the technobabble.
"Now here's your DNA scan as convoluted and twisted as it is now," Sevarius said, tapping the screen. "This is Sample 'A' and here is Sample 'B'. What we will do is input the information from both samples and cross match them with your own."
They both watched as the complicated patterns of the gene sequences trails across the screen. Sevarius had the computer overlay first one and then the other of the DNA samples over the George's. Time after time, the computer found matches and misses before Sevarius was satisfied with the results.
"Hmmm," he said as he tapped his finger on his chin, "It's a good thing you brought two samples. This first sample matches in a number of places but not in any of the crucial gene sequences where your genes have mutated. Now, this second sample, the one from the younger donor, is more promising."
"How so?" George asked.
"Well, as I explained earlier the DNA pattern seems be closer to your own. Not a perfect match, pity we didn't clone you ahead of time. But much closer than that of a sibling. Plus children's cells, especially the new ones, are so much more easy to manipulate. They're still trying to settle in to their permanent locations. Oh, not a perfect analogy I grant you, but it'll do for now."
"I'm not sure, Doctor. What kind of risks would that sort of procedure be to a baby?" George frowned. "One that's a few months old?"
Sevarius looked at him, eyebrows arched up into disbelieving question marks. "What, feeling a little delicate, are we? That's unlike you."
George's eyes hardened. "Just answer the question."
"We could extract some cells from the stomach lining. It might be stressful to the little mite though. It requires a very big needle and a very steady hand." Sevarius looked up from his coffee cup. "I could switch to decaf if the price were right."
"Do that." And George was gone.
* * * * *
Somewhere on the Upper West Side
Angela and Broadway were silhouetted against the moon as they circled the steeple of St. Mary's Episcopal Church lazily. "This is the place," Broadway called out. "Where exactly did Richard say her place was again?"
"Quinn's apartment building is just northeast of the church," Angela replied. "Fourth floor, blue curtains."
"You'd better take a look then," Broadway suggested. "You've got a more delicate fly-by approach than I do."
With a flip of her wings, Angela glided down silently to circle the building on the fourth story level. Most of the windows had their drapes pulled shut with just the white backing showing but by the second pass she managed to spy one with blue edging. Angela looped up and over to land lightly, her spread talons digging into the brickwork. She peered in through a gap in the curtains and smiled at what she saw.
Richard was laying in the middle of the living room floor entertaining the baby by raising and lifting her into the air. Angela almost laughed herself at the wide-eyed, happy expression on Hope's face. Quinn came back into the room and after some light conversation, Richard was ushered out with several kisses. The light dancing in Quinn's eyes as she turned away from shutting the door brought tears to Angela's eyes.
"Oh, dear Richard," she murmured. "I knew it. You have found someone to love you." She pushed away from the wall and soared up.
"Well, was that the right apartment?" Broadway asked from his perch on the church roof. "I was beginning to wonder what was so interesting over there."
"Yes, that's Quinn's place," Angela answered as she swung up to join him. "Let's wait a few moments. Richard is on his way out."
Several minutes later, Richard appeared, his step light and a silly smile on his face. Angela dipped under a rooftop spotlight to cast her shadow on the street to catch Richard's attention and he hurried towards the shadows of a nearby park.
"Hey, Angela, Broadway," Richard said breathlessly as he trotted up. "Any news on George?"
"No, nothing new that we know of," Angela replied.
"Except that the NYPD are getting a little frustrated at chasing guys that run up buildings," Broadway added. "It's not your standard criminal's M.O."
"Well, I'm glad the police scared him off earlier," Richard commented. "I didn't want him anywhere near Quinn and Hope. I'm not sure what he might do but I can't bear the thought of anything happening to them."
Angela smiled and impulsively kissed Richard's cheek. "I'm so happy for you. You've found your love and a family."
Richard shot a cautious look at Broadway as he blushed, fingers brushing his cheek. "Yeah, well, I don't know if you can really call us a family. Quinn and I have only been dating a few weeks and Hope's got another father." He frowned a little. "She's not mine."
"This whole mother/father hang-up that you humans have isn't as big a deal as you think," Broadway said. "In the old days, all the hatchlings belonged to the whole Clan. You really didn't know who your birth parents were but you knew which adults loved you." The big gargoyle's eyes grew dreamy. "Hudson's second-in-command before Goliath always treated me with extra kindness -- a gentle caress when I was sad, a special treat if I was good. Although she was a fierce warrior and a tough teacher, I still remember those times when she would take me up to the cliffs and sing to me. If I could call anyone 'Mother'," Broadway said fervently, "it would have been her."
"Oh, beloved, that's just beautiful." Angela embraced him, snuggling it under his arm. "You see, Richard, how the gargoyle way works. I was not raised by my birth parents either, by humans, in fact. To my brothers and sisters and I, it didn't matter that we were gargoyles and they were not. We knew we were loved and that's all that was important." She smiled. "Hope may not be the child of your body, but she's already the child of your heart."
Richard smiled at that. "I certainly hope so," he said. "Thanks, Angela." He shoved his hands deep in his coat pockets. "I was going out to rent some videos while Quinn nurses the baby. I really ought to be on my way."
Angela smiled wistfully as he walked away and Broadway noticed, tilting her face his way. "What's the matter?" he asked with a laugh.
"It's funny," Angela commented, "but I'm both sad and happy. Silly, isn't it?"
"Not at all," Broadway responded as they started up the wall. "When you first met him, Richard was lonely and now he's found someone to love. Everything comes full circle if you're patient enough."
* * * * *
The Shire Pub, late evening.
The clinking of glasses and the pleasant drone of voices provided an agreeable background for an evening of chess and companionship. The Halflings were still celebrating their escapades of the previous evening, cheering loudly every time an update on the harbor disaster appeared on the news. A flock of wisps had followed one of the female halfings in and were twittering up above the light fixtures. Casey had Umbriel's rook backed into a corner and the halfbreed fay hadn't enjoyed an evening so much in decades.
"You've got him now, Casey," Zed said from his perilous perch, leaning forward on two legs of his backwards-seated chair. "Checkmate in three moves."
"Three, eh?" Umbriel said with a laugh. "Now we'll just see abou---" A cold tingle went up his spine and his eyes went wide as his mind touched something his other senses could not.
There was a sharp thump as Zed's chair legs hit the floor. "Umb? Hey, Umb? You okay?"
Umbriel looked up from the chessboard, his face like ashes. He swallowed as he stood up and tried to compose himself. His shaking hand brushed against the chessboard and a pawn toppled over.
"Umbriel?" Casey asked quizzically. "What are you doing?"
Walking into the center of the room, Umbriel raised his voice. "Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest we all be on our best behavior. We're about to have company."
Zed followed Umbriel across the floor, with Casey trailing behind. "Why do I get the feeling this is a bad thing?"
The bartender leaned against the bar. "Should I be breaking out the good stuff?"
Umbriel shook his head. "Get out now, Mr. Underhill. Leave now while you can." When Sam stood there, staring in stunned disbelief at Umbriel's uncharacteristic bluntness, Umbriel added, "Please. You would be much safer elsewhere."
"How touching," came a voice from the shadows. "Such high regard you have for the help."
Two spots of color rose in his pale cheeks, but Umbriel stood his ground. "A good barman is hard to find."
A column of fire swirled to life before them. "He's got a good point, mousiekins," Loki said as he re-formed into his normal long-haired, leather-wearing image. The Unseelie trickster strode to the bar and pounded his fist against the polished wood. "Your best ale, barkeep, and make it snappy!"
To his credit, Sam didn't even blink but presented Loki with a foaming mug within seconds. Loki took a deep draught and smacked his lips. "Not bad," he commented. "You'll do."
Garlon was busy counting heads. "Where's Harrison?"
"Don't know," Zed said with a shrug. "Don't know if I'd tell you if I did."
There was an audible whoosh of air followed by a wet thump as Zed smacked into the wall and slid into an occupied booth. "You always did have a smart mouth," Garlon observed. "Don't speak unless I say so."
Casey sidled up to Umbriel and whispered urgently, "What're they doing here? I've got a bad feeling about this."
"Be calm," Umbriel hissed back, "and no matter what happens, keep your temper."
"What's this?" Loki called out, quaffing his ale. "Don't start getting attached to the cannon fodder, Umby, old boy. First rule in warfare."
"I must say I'm disappointed in you," said a figure standing in the entryway, his features obscured by the glare of the ambient street lighting behind him. His hand rested on a hawk-headed cane. "Hardly the sort of company I'd expect any relative of mine to be keeping."
Umbriel swallowed. "Greetings, uncle."
* * * * *
Meanwhile back at Quinn's apartment.
"...And when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall... And down will come baby, cradle and all." Quinn smiled as Hope's warm little body relaxed against hers, her breath whistling in and out of her open mouth. "That's my good girl," Quinn told her. "Guess that medicine's doing it's job. That's the quickest you've fallen asleep in weeks."
The short brunette woman got up carefully from the rocking chair and settled the baby in her crib. Quinn put her hands on the small of her back and stretched before checking the alarm clock by the bed. "Hmmm.... Lucky me. I've got just enough time to freshen up before Richard gets back with the videos." She raised her arm to her nose and sniffed. "And put on something that doesn't smell so much like baby burp! Phew!"
Quinn rifled through the closet for a fresh change of clothes and then took them into the bathroom so as to not wake her sleeping baby. The sound of the shower was soon the only sound in the apartment --- all save one, a faint metallic rasp coming from the door.
George stayed low as he pushed the door open, looking carefully for any sign of movement. He slipped inside the apartment, shutting the door silently behind him. He sniffed and made a face. "Phaugh!! Diapers!!" Waving a hand in front of his nose, he muttered, "Oh, yes... this is very romantic. Not."
His footsteps fell hushed against the carpet as he scanned the apartment. The sound of a running shower came through a partially open door. "That's promising," he commented, and followed the sound into the bedroom. A honey oak crib occupied a corner of the room decorated with pastel butterflies scattered on the wall. With a glance at the bathroom door, George approached the crib.
She was so... tiny. The bundle of pink he'd seen only from a distance had always seemed bigger somehow. Laying on her side, the dark-haired baby had one hand curled under her cheek and the other twisted in the fringe of her blanket. George found he was holding his breath.
"What are you afraid of?" he said scornfully. "It's just a baby."
George reached in and scooped up the sleeping infant. For a few seconds, he marveled at how light she was in his hands. His enhanced senses could hear the soft sigh of her breathing, feel the pulse of her heartbeat coursing through her body - he shook his head.
"Knock it off," he told himself. "Until a few days ago, you didn't know she existed."
"Richard?" came Quinn's voice, muffled behind the door. "How'd you get in?"
George flinched a little at her voice, jostling the baby. Her startled blue eyes flew open and the most alarming caterwauling wail started up. The tiny body tensed up, arms and legs shaking, tears wetting her dark lashes. He almost dropped her out of shock.
"Hope?" The bathroom door flew open and Quinn shot out, pulling a sweater over her shirt and jeans. "Mommy's coming, it's okay, it's-" Her eyes flew wide open at the sight of him, the whites visible all around her dark brown irises. Her open mouth trembled. "Who are you?" She focused all her attention on the crying, kicking bundle in his arms. "What are you doing? That's my baby! Give me my baby!!"
George shifted the baby into the cradle of his left arm and threw out the right as Quinn lunged towards him. "Stop!" he commanded, his eyes flickering electric blue. "I don't want to hurt you."
Quinn struggled against the unnatural paralysis that held her prisoner. "Then don't take my baby!" she pleaded, tears trickling down her cheeks. "Hope is all I have."
"Quinn?" The front door banged open in the outer room. "The door was unlocked. Quinn, Hope, are you all right!"
"Richard?" Quinn glanced at the door and threw in breath to scream. "Rich--!!"
In a split-second, George closed the distance between them and turned Quinn's desperate stare towards him. "You-will-go-to-sleep!" George intoned firmly and Quinn collapsed, falling half-on, half-off the bed. The baby pounded her little fists against his chest and George glared down at her, intending to use the same technique to quiet her.
Their eyes met but, unlike adult subjects that had a lifetime of weaknesses that George could twist to his advantage, Hope had nothing but a child's infinite sense of wonder. Behind the tears and the gasping little sobs, there was only a simple loving trust for the one holding her. Her mind was as clear and pure and human as his mind had once been. The thought of giving her over to Sevarius' tender mercies was suddenly too much to bear.
"George?" Richard's incredulous voice echoed in his ears.
He found himself tucking Hope against his chest and resting his cheek on the top of her dark curls. He breathed in the sweet, baby powder scent of his daughter and committed it to memory. "I can't do it," George whispered. "I can't let anyone hurt you, not even to save my own life."
"Quinn!" There were the sounds of Richard's footsteps on the carpet. "What did you do to her?"
George blinked and came out of his self-induced trance. "She's fine, Richard. She's only sleeping."
"What are you doing here?" Richard stood up furious. "I told you to stay away from them. I love Quinn - I love them both."
"I know that now." George's voice was curiously calm as he slowly and reluctantly handed Hope to his brother. "Here. Take her." He let his fingertips brush the curls away from her forehead as Richard took her in his arms. "Be the father I can't be, Rich. She deserves better than me."
"George?" Richard stared at him, shocked.
He went over to Quinn and snapped his fingers. Her eyes opened but it was clear that she saw nothing. "Listen to me, Quinn. I was never here. When you hear Richard call your name, you'll wake up from a little nap. Now go back to sleep." Obediently, the dark-haired woman let her eyes slowly close.
"Will that work?" Richard asked skeptically.
"It should." George took a deep breath and faced his brother. "I'm sorry, Rich. I - I should've never come here. I realize that now." He gave Hope, now sniffling with her fist in her mouth, one last look. "I can never see her again. It's too dangerous." He swallowed hard. "But I promise, I will never, ever let anyone hurt her, not even me."
George smiled wanly and crooked his little finger at his brother. Richard looked at him with a twisted smile and hooked his little finger through his brother's. They locked stares with each other for a few seconds before George pulled away and was out the window without a single look back.
Richard stood at the window with Hope until the bells of St. Mary's began to toll the hour. "Take care of yourself, George," he said softly, "and someday, come back home again."
* * * * *
The Shire Pub
"So, nephew," Madoc said coldly as he stepped down into the room, "this is where you've been spending your off hours."
"It is a comfortable place," Umbriel replied. "And the company of your halflings has been pleasant enough."
Madoc let his steely gray eyes scan the room. "An odd choice for companionship when you have the entire Unseelie Court to chose from."
"Are they so different from me, uncle?" Umbriel spread his hands out to indicate the room. "True, their powers were a gift of science while mine were granted by more natural means but I could easily call them cousins."
"Pathetic," Loki commented with a snort.
"Your point-of-view is logical," Madoc said evenly, "but your perspective is skewed. You, dear Umbriel, have the blood of Avalon in your veins. Your future is limitless, while theirs, alas, is not."
"Huh?" Zed staggered to his feet. "That's not what I was told when I signed up."
Madoc merely flicked his eyes in Garlon's direction.
"Ggg-urk!!!" Zed hit the wall again but this time with Garlon's hand on his throat.
"Seems you're a slow learner, halfling," Garlon crooned, his eyes flashing eerily like blue ice. "Maybe this is our troublemaker, Lord Madoc."
"Troublemaker?" Umbriel forced himself not to look right or left, but straight ahead at the Unseelie lord. "I don't understand."
"A few days ago, Garlon learned that a human scientist in my employ came into this place. For what purpose, it is not certain, but we suspect that one of the halflings in this room had business with him. Loki was following him and when he tried to enter, he was most rudely repulsed from the premises." Madoc took two steps forward, his eyes burrowing into Umbriel's. "What do you know of this?"
"Uncle, I-" Umbriel's brow wrinkled. "I will admit that I have been giving some of them instruction in the use of their powers. Nothing outside the limits of their abilities, I assure you, sir, just minor things - levitation, wards, things of that nature." He lowered his eyes. "If this displeases you, my lord, then I humbly apologize."
Madoc regarded his nephew in silence for a few seconds, narrowing his eyes while he considered the situation. "Whatever your intentions, in the future, you will consult me before starting any more educational projects."
"As you wish, my lord."
"Still," Madoc continued as he regarded the roomful of genetically-enhanced humans, "this is only one symptom of a growing illness I intend to stamp out. Some of you have returned to your former occupations - extortion, robbery, criminal activities of all sorts. I care not what you do to the humans, but heed this: when I give you a command, it is to be obeyed immediately. Your petty interests are meaningless next to mine."
He paused to let his words sink in. "Garlon, give them an example of what will happen if I ever get the barest hint of disobedience again."
Still pinning Zed to the wall, Garlon grinned and conjured a gleaming blade out of thin air.
"NO!!" Casey yelled and blasted Garlon, throwing him back into the bar and causing glasses to tumble from their shelves, shattering on the floor.
"Well, hello, nurse!!" Loki exclaimed, fireball materializing in his hand. "You had the wrong one, Mouse. This is the little punk we want right here." He started tossing fireballs at Casey. "It's payback time!"
The grayish-blue glow of Casey's wards lit the room as Loki's fireballs bounced harmlessly off them. "Get bent!!" the olive-skinned halfling called back and his force field swept over Loki like a tidal wave, washing him up the steps and smashing him up against the door.
"ENOUGH!!" Madoc shouted. He glared at Casey. "Stop this at once!"
Umbriel felt Casey's erratic power surge before the halfling turned and even then he knew things had grown beyond Casey's control. A globule of irradiated protoplasm separated from Casey's energy field and lobbed towards Madoc.
"Shield yourselves!" Umbriel shouted to the other halflings and cast up his own wards to protect the room.
The blast collided in a spectacular lightshow directly in front of Madoc. When the dancing blue spots in the vision of all present cleared, incredibly, Madoc was still standing. Lips moving in a silent litany, he lowered his head, eyes fixed on Casey. The halfling had no warning.
One minute, he was there.
The next, he was engulfed in starfire.
Umbriel's mouth hung open in shock with all the others. He hadn't sensed anything - it was like Madoc had suddenly ripped open the universe and sealed it back up again. There was nothing left of Casey but ashes.
Madoc leaned heavily on his cane as Garlon and Loki took up their positions at his side like dangerous bookends. "Remember this well," he said in a dangerously calm voice, "I am your master. Your lives are mine. Do not defy me or you will die." As one, the Unseelie trio headed for the door.
As they passed Umbriel, Madoc paused and looked back. "Umbriel, you will come with me."
"Yes, Lord Madoc." As he walked towards his uncle, his passing stirred up the ashes on the floor, causing them to dance in swirling patterns in the air. Another friend gone away, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Human lives were so fragile. For a brief moment, he wished he was back living his solitary life again. Loneliness would be preferable to the aching grief he dare not release in the presence of his uncle.
Umbriel followed Madoc out the door and never looked back.
* * * * *
The Conservatory Gardens
George was sitting at the Burnett Fountain where he'd seen his family only days before, looking at his reflection in the dark, still waters. He'd paid a little visit to the Bio Tech building. The firemen were probably still there, cleaning up his handiwork. Sevarius had required some additional payment to destroy his notes and buy his silence, but in the end, his cooperation was paid in full. His wanderings afterwards had brought him here to the fountain - how, why, he didn't know. He had felt strange ever since he looked into Hope's mind - so clear and full of endless possibilities. He remembered a time when he had felt like that, back when he had been a better man.
The ley lines arcing over the Unseelie nexus point suddenly twitched. George was on his feet and gliding towards the disturbance in a second. He was surprised to see Madoc disappearing into the nexus, with Umbriel and Loki. Garlon was standing there, staring at him expectantly.
"Where've you been, Harrison?"
"Taking care of business," George replied. "Personal business."
Garlon smirked. "Well, while you were away, Lord Madoc had to discipline one of your fellow Halflings. If you hurry, I believe they're still viewing the remains back at that pub."
"What?" George exclaimed. "What did he do to deserve that?"
"He defied his master and he paid the price." Garlon shrugged. "We think he was working with Sevarius because his powers were far beyond what he was given. You need to find out if anyone else was working with Sevarius." He watched close for George's reaction. "After all, we wouldn't want any more ugly incidents like this, do we?"
. "No," George replied with a perfect poker face, "of course, we don't. I'll handle Sevarius myself. I'll make sure no more of my people will have anything to do with him."
"Good." Garlon stepped into the nexus. "You do that."
George stood there, a southern breeze blowing his dark trenchcoat around, until the sound of approaching footsteps made him look around. Candy, Zed and a few other of the Halflings were coming towards him. His sharp eyes noted the conspicuous absence among them.
"So, is it true?" he demanded. "Did he kill Casey?"
"Ma-a-a-an," Zed whined hoarsely, "he snuffed him out like Casey was nothing!"
"It was pretty bad," Candy said calmly, but her face was twisted with emotion. "I don't know what got into Casey but he attacked Madoc. I don't know how he could have done it."
"I wanted to help him," Zed continued, almost weeping, "I wanted to and I couldn't!"
"None of us could, Zed. Don't take it so hard." Candy said gently, putting her hand on his shoulder. "We're all taking it pretty hard, George. None of us could stay in the pub after that. Vince and a bunch of the ex-Dracon goons went to one of their old hangouts. Rael, Rita, Tanya and some others decided to take out their frustrations on the town. We thought you needed to know so we've been tracking you down."
Zed glared at George. "Where were you tonight, man? You're supposed to be our leader! You could have done something!"
"Like what?" George shot back. "Casey's powers have been unpredictable for months now. It was only a matter of time before Madoc found out and took steps." He looked at them all. "You've seen for yourselves what I've know since the beginning, Madoc controls us - body, mind and soul. The only way we're going to survive this war is to play it smart."
"Smart?" Zed snarled. "Casey is dead! It may mean nothing to you but he was my friend!"
"Smart is not letting your emotions control you," George said calmly. "I liked Casey too but I know that now is not the time for revenge. For now, we do exactly what we're told. Hunt the gargoyles. Cause chaos wherever we go. Madoc says 'jump' and we'll say 'how high?'" His eyes narrowed. "Listen to me. There's going to come a time when Madoc will have no power over us and when that time comes, we'll get our revenge." He smiled coldly. "We'll get everything back."
* * * * *
Photo of the Burnett Fountain, Conservatory Garden, Central Park:
"I am the very model of a modern Major-General." From "The Pirates of Penzance" by Gilbert & Sullivan